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Xuan Paper Making – a UNESCO intangible heritage

instructions of Xuan paper making

Xuan paper making matured over 1,000 years ago in the Tang dynasty, following original invention of paper by Cai Lun (7-121) and is regarded as one of the “Four Treasures of the Study“.  Today, Xuan paper is still made by master craftsmen using traditional techniques, recognised by Unesco and inscribed into the Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009.

This article is about the making of the paper, click here to read more about the different types of paper and their usages and Xuan Paper Buyer’s Guide.

Why is it called Xuan Paper?

Xuan paper  – Xuan Zhi 宣纸 – takes its name from XuanZhou, the river port from where this paper was originally sold, and transported by rivers and canals to the main towns of ancient China.   XuanZhou is now a district of XuanCheng 宣城 which literally means Xuan City.

Qing Tan Tree
Qing Tan Tree

In the West Xuan paper is sometimes misleadingly described as rice paper.  It does contain rice straw, however the distinctive ingredient is tree bark:  the highest quality papers contain 70-85% bark and only a small proportion of rice straw. Xuan paper is therefore made in the villages of 泾县 Jīng Xiàn (Jing County), a mountainous area home to the key ingredients: pure fresh mountain water streams and the 青檀 qing tan – Pteroceltis tatarinowii or Blue Sandalwood tree.

The whole tree can be put to good use:  the bark is used for paper, the wood makes good timber, and the berries and oil are used in the making of ink.

Tree barks are the most important Xuan paper raw materials.

Normally a non-destructive harvesting process is used where 2-year old branches are harvested for bark, after which the tree continues to grow new branches.

The production process is also now highly regulated and controlled to ensure that standards are maintained – including environmental standards – the clean water is one of the key ingredients!

Raw Materials at Inkston Workshop

We use a wide range of natural raw materials to process our papers. Here are some photos of how these materials look like.

How is Xuan paper made?

Our photos below from the paper workshops give you an idea of how the Xuan Paper is made.

First the bark and raw materials are prepared:

A slurry is mixed of the spring water and fibres, and a sheet of paper is collected on a screen.  (There are also two-person screens for the largest sheet sizes).

The sheet of paper can then be lifted off the screen and placed onto a stack of wet papers.

The papers are individually dried on these large heated metal plates, then they are trimmed and packed into packs of 100 sheets.


Xuan paper Shop

More stories about Xuan paper

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6 thoughts on “Xuan Paper Making – a UNESCO intangible heritage

  1. […] >40 decorative papers. For more general information see also Chinese Xuan paper introduction, the making of Xuan paper and the decorative paper […]

  2. […] course you don’t need to invest that much to get the real paper, since the full traditional process is still in use today  – some artists stock up on the paper when they have money and keep it to age.  A common […]

  3. […] Paper production in China started around 2,000 years ago and matured into the fine Xuan paper over 1,000 years ago.  See Chinese Xuan 1,000 year old Truth paper and Xuan paper making – a Unesco intangible heritage. […]

  4. […] Papiere. Für weitere Informationen besuchen Sie bitte die Seiten Chinese Xuan paper introduction, the making of Xuan paper und die decorative paper […]

  5. […] The paper I saw and took a shot of at the museum’s wonderful exhibition is from there. (I only found out when I came home and looked up where exactly it was, Rauschenberg had been). Read more about Xuan paper here. And here on Inkston. […]

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